After a couple of months off, we are moving into our next season of Bible Study.  Our next study is called, Jesus, I Need You. The title alone describes how I feel!  I DO need Jesus!

At the beginning of every study, we do a week of orientation—we spend time reading and talking about why Thistlebend is structured the way it is, and what to expect from a Thistlebend study. Even though the information may feel repetitive for those of us who have taken Thistlebend studies, it is so helpful to be reminded of the mission of the ministry and framework of the studies. This time, I was reading through the Orientation Guide, re-visiting the SALT (submission, accountability, laboring, and transparency) model (a discipleship tool that Thistlebend follows with participants through their studies), when I felt I needed to linger over “laboring” a bit longer.

Philippians 2:12-13 says we are to: “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”  Our guide goes on to beautifully explain (and I am paraphrasing) that we are to “labor humbly with all diligence in devotion to prayer; in our study of God’s Word; in service; in obedience, in perseverance and diligence; in sound doctrine; and in repentance and faith.”

I know the Philippians 2 verses well.  It’s so helpful to understand that the pursuit of righteousness is not easy! For further clarification, I looked up these verses in different translations. The New Living Translation says it this way: “Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear.”  The Living Bible says: “you must be even more careful to do the good things that result from being saved, obeying God with deep reverence, shrinking back from all that might displease him.”

I like the phrase: “work hard to show the results of your salvation.” Work hard. It is work to devote time to prayer when so many other things clamor for our attention; it is work to serve others instead of ourselves.  It is work to be obedient to the Lord, to persevere, to adhere to sound doctrine, to live a life of repentance and faith.  It is work.  It is hard, especially because our sin nature yearns to be satisfied and in order to work out our salvation, we have to continually beat back the desires of the flesh. It is a constant battle. God, in His great provision for His beloved children, gives us His Spirit, His energy, His Word, His promises, and His Son to help us overcome, but we must have faith in Him to do the work.  And growing in faith takes work.  It takes time, energy, and effort, discipline and commitment to knowing the One in whom we have placed our faith.

As rich as Philippians 2:12-13 is in doctrine, in truth, it is the next sentence in our guide that pierced my heart most: “Laboring in pursuit of righteousness is by no means to earn favor with the Lord or with one another.”  We don’t work out our salvation to earn favor with God (Eph 2:8-9) and we don’t do it to impress others.

A couple of years ago, I would have said that I did not labor in pursuit of righteousness to earn favor with other people.  But in recent months, the Lord has been revealing to me that I DO care what others think.  I have had to confess that I said or did things to try to impress my sisters in Christ with my “labors.”  In fact, I have had to confess that my willingness to be transparent was sometimes grounded in a desire to be heard, not out of a desire to open my heart to the Lord.  I had to look carefully at my motives. I had to confess to the Lord that I sometimes did my Bible Study homework not out of love for and devotion to Him, but because I wanted the ladies in my Small Group to know I was doing my study. I was stunned by these revelations and felt sick at my shallowness.  Even worse, God revealed to me that Bible Study was an idol for me.  I prioritized Bible Study over Him.  On the surface, I looked like a Christian woman desiring to know God more deeply.  On the inside, I felt distant from God and hollow. I was not growing in relationship with God. I was simply completing a task.

This is really hard stuff to admit. But there is such freedom in confession! I have truly taken 1 John 1:9 to heart: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  Yes, God forgives.  But He is faithful to cleanse us, too.  He lovingly equips us to change.

It is my deep desire to complete this upcoming study with a spirt of humility and authenticity.  I am praying that the Lord would help me to labor for Him out of my love for Him.  I pray that I will take to heart the truth that I do not need to earn His favor, Jesus secured that for me.  I don’t need anyone else’s approval, I don’t need to compare myself to anyone else, I don’t need to be anyone else but the person God made me to be.

Have you ever had realizations about yourself with Bible Study or a particular way you’re living?

Growing in Grace




“I just hate the newborn stage. I hate how unsettled I feel as I’m trying to figure out our new routines.” I confessed this to my sister-in-law not too long ago as I was processing through the hard that comes when you are given the gift of a baby.

Last week my husband lost his best friend and mentor unexpectedly to a pulmonary embolism. My husband had just had lunch with him the day prior to his death where his friend actually said to him, while not going through any major trial, that sometimes he’s just really tired of this world and how he couldn’t wait for the day when he would be united with Jesus in eternity. That really struck a chord with my husband, so much so that he shared that story with me even before his friend’s passing. Then of course, we thought and talked much more about it after his friend was gone from this earth.

My husband’s friend was not settled here on earth, he was settled in Jesus, where his identity really was, with Christ. As we thought about his life and his heavenly perspective I thought about the statement I had made to my sister-in-law just a few weeks prior and the Lord brought the question to mind—are you too settled here?

I sadly had to answer that question with a yes. I’m settled here in this world. I’m settled and secure, at peace and rest when my schedule goes according to my plan. When things are easy. When they’re comfortable. Laurie asked in last week’s lecture as we’re embarking on our study for this semester, Jesus I Need You, who is Jesus to you? And do you live out who you say you believe Jesus is to you? When things are hard, uncomfortable, messy, sad, is Jesus my all, my everything, like I say with my mouth that He is? Unfortunately not. Instead of the reality of my identity being in Christ coming through in those moments, what you would see instead is my flesh response of self-pity, pride, anger, unrest, anxiety, impatience and an all-out fight quite honestly to get my way to happen.

Once my to-dos get crossed, once the babies are napping, once the babies are healthy, once the Bible reading and Bible study homework is caught up on, etc. etc. then you’ll see me at rest, you’ll see me take a breath. What happened to me being able to be settled in Jesus?

To my husband’s friend, Jesus was more real to him than anything here on earth. He believed the reality of the truth, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). In this week’s homework of Jesus I Need You I read the scripture, “For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, ‘In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength’” (Isaiah 30:15). My study Bible pointed out that the root form of the word for quiet, at ease and secure are the same. While it may not be the same root word, I think you could add settlement to that list of synonyms. In returning to the Lord, repentance, and resting, finding your soul settled in Him is where our real strength lies.

I recently finished a book entitled Missional Motherhood. The author, Gloria Furman, mentioned that it’s normal practice for us to look at life in seasons—seasons of mothering littles, seasons of infertility, seasons of hard, easy, you name it. She challenged readers, however, to think differently, that we’re not really in seasons, we’re in one, the season of life this side of heaven because everything is for God’s glory regardless of where we find ourselves in this particular moment. I keep looking at certain things that are hard and trying to get through them, to be settled in the easy and comfortable, idolizing that dream, instead of remembering that my settlement is to be found in the one who never changes, Jesus Christ, who is my Good Shepherd and because of Him I have no lack; who leads me in paths of righteousness for His names sake, for His glory (Psalm 23).

What does all this tell me? I need Jesus. I actually need Jesus; not to make things easy, not to make me comfortable, but I need Him and Him alone. Thank the Lord I see a tiny glimpse of my deep need. I want to be settled in Him alone, not a nap schedule working out for the day. Praise God for His grace in my desire, but I need His grace to live it too, to believe the reality that there’s someone so much more and better than all things here on this earth.

I’m too settled here. I’m too settled in my ways and routines, my relationships and I seek them more than I seek my relationship with the Lord, but contrary to what I may feel and what may appear to be the most real, by God’s grace, this is not my home; I’m just passing through and I’m praying for grace to believe that reality more than what’s right in front of me. To look towards my real home and find settlement in Him alone. To rejoice in Him alone.

“I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness…” (Isaiah 61:10a).

What about you? Where are you settled?

Planted for His Glory

“You’re not going to find happiness in a piece of chocolate cake.”  Ok, I am paraphrasing Laurie from last week’s lecture.  But she did say something about chocolate cake not being able to provide lasting comfort when we are facing tough situations.

Is that really true?!  I thought chocolate solved pretty much all problems.

Of course, I am kidding.  I know, intellectually, that chocolate does not solve any problems.

But Laurie’s point hit home.  How many “chocolate cakes” do I turn to when I feel empty, isolated, sad, anxious, worthless or even when I’ve just had a tough day?  When I need to be comforted, to what do I turn?  For me, I turn inward and retreat.  I do something to distract my thoughts.  I may read a novel or watch a movie or surf the internet.  I may eat chocolate or even pull the covers over my head. Whatever I turn to, it is mindless and meaningless.  Sometimes, it doesn’t even cross my mind to stop and pray.

The Lord looks upon our hearts.  1 Sam 16:7 says, For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”  Even if I do not confess my sins, the Lord knows them all.  He knew everything about me before I was even born, and He knows everything about me now.  There is no place I can go to hide from Him.  (Psalm 139:7-8).

There is a particular sin I have been dealing with for a long while.  It has been so hard for me to understand why I haven’t been delivered from it.  I’ve confessed it and pleaded with the Lord to help me overcome it.  But this week, thinking about our lesson…about Jesus being led into the wilderness to fast for 40 days and 40 nights and to be repeatedly tempted by Satan, I realized I was like the Israelites who, also were led into the wilderness and repeatedly tested for 40 years. 40 years! God had to constantly work on their hearts to humble them and teach them to obey Him—and He is doing the same with me.

The first time I read that the Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years, I could hardly believe it. How could they not follow God’s commands after what they had witnessed? They had been delivered from plagues, from oppression; the sea had parted for them so they could escape Egypt! Then the Lord provided food and He even physically led them as they walked, day and night, towards the Promised Land.  What was wrong with these people??

After reading the account multiple times throughout the years, the Lord opened my eyes to see how much I am like those people who grumbled at Moses and disregarded God’s law.  I have the same sinful heart condition they did. I want to travel the path of least resistance and so did they.

So what did Jesus, our Lord, do when Satan tempted Him?  He quoted scripture.  We are told in Matthew 4: 1-11 that Satan tempted Jesus three times: to end His hunger, show His power, and grant Him the ultimate earthly throne. And three times Jesus repelled Satan with the Word of God.

I especially like Matthew 4:10, Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’”  If Jesus tells Satan to be gone, then by His Spirit, I am empowered to do the same.

This all ties together.  When I feel dispirited over this particular sin or wanting that path of least resistance, I know I am more susceptible to the wiles of the enemy.  The moment I become aware that my thoughts are shifting to a negative spin-cycle, I must remind myself to fight.  To tell the enemy to be gone!  To count to 10, pray, and turn to scripture.

I carry scripture with me. It’s on my phone.  In my car. In my purse. It’s posted in my house and at work. Currently, I am carrying verses that remind me how much God loves me, so that I can meditate on how He wants what is best and highest for me; He is not some far-off judge who is waiting for me to trip up so He can punish me.  I am praying to know what Paul knew:

“I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.  No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 8:38-39 NLT).

That includes chocolate cake.

Growing in Grace